Thursday, April 09, 2009

It Was Forty Years Ago Today

On 9 April 1969, dear blog reader, this blogger attended his first ever football match as a five year old with my dad. I can remember just about everything about the day leading up to the game - the rising wee-in-your-own-pants excitement that I was going to see my beloved (though, even in those days unsellalbe) Magpies in action for the very first time. A team which, remember, just two months later would beat one of the best club sides in Europe and win the only trophy that I've yet to see them win in my lifetime (I'm not counting the Texaco Cup, the Anglo Italian Cup, the Championship and the Intertoto Cup here, I'm talking about proper trophies). There was the bus trip on the old number Thirty Four route, up Walker Road, along the Quayside, round by the Central Station and getting off on Westgate Road and then, the walk along Stowell Street (long before it was packed with all the lovely Chinese restaurants which it houses today), across Gallowgate and up Strawberry Place to St James' Park. I do that walk virtually every week these days and it's about three hundred yards at most. But, it seemed like a marathon then because I was only small and had very little legs!
This blogger can remember hearing the muffled tannoy noise from a distance which sounded uncannily like a radio broadcast from another dimension - or, something off Doctor Who anyway - and the rumble and murmur of the, already assembling, crowd. I can remember the smell of hot dogs wafting, sickly-sweet, towards me - probably the first time that I'd ever experienced that smell in my life. I can remember the little gnarled old fella that used to walk around the cinder track before the match selling peanuts for 'a tanner a bag!' And, I recall the smell of beer on men's breath. I can remember getting into the ground on the old Popular Side and sitting on the wall at the front behind an advertising board thinking 'finally, I'm here.'
I can, in short, remember just about everything about the day ... except for any details of the match itself! I mean, I've looked it up since, of course. I've even got a copy of the match-day programme. I know that it was a First Division game against Sheffield Wednesday, for example and that United eventually won three-two (with goals by the recently signed Benny Arentoft, Keith Dyson and, the now virtually forgotten, Arthur Horsfield). I know - from reading the Journal report on the match - that Willie McFaul saved a point blank header in the last minute which ensured that United got the two points. And, that it was Geoff Allen's last game for United's first team. It was his comeback after a six month absence but he lasted just five minutes before a heavy tackle from some klodhopping Wednesday defender effectively ended his career at the age of just twenty three. And, I can even tell you that the crowd was twenty nine thousand nine hundred and seventy three. Or, twenty nine thousand nine hundred and seventy one plus me and my dad.
What I can't tell you anything about, at all, is the game itself. I have absolutely no memories of that whatsoever. They seem to have been flushed away by the hyperactivity and stress of the day. In fact, although I know that I attended a smattering of games at St James' during 1969 and 1970 (usually with my dad, occasionally with my older brother), it was really only the arrivals of Malcolm MacDonald, Hallelujah John Tudor and Tony Green in 1971 that kind of kick-start my memories of actual games themselves. Supermac's famous home début, against Liverpool in August 1971, when he scored a hat-trick is probably the first proper memory of watching football that I have and that may well be because the game was televised on Shoot and I've watched the highlights dozens of times since. So, even that may be an example of False Memory Syndrome.
Anyway, in celebration of my fortieth anniversary of total and utter bloody misery (a couple of decent cups runs, two relegations and two promotions and five years of Keeganomics aside), here's a glass - of Broon, obviously - raised to the Good Ol' Boys Of Sixty Nine, the last Newcastle United team that actually won anything worth winning. And here's to Bobby Moncur with that Fairs Cup in his hands...!